Assembly’s Femi Taiwo examines WARC Awards for Media entries from Warner Bros. UK, Unilever Food Solutions and L’Oréal

The future of advertising, at least when it comes to technology, is being shaped at a rapid rate.

Marketers’ concerns about data usage and privacy stemming from the EU’s GDPR in 2018 has been further exacerbated by Google decision to deprecate third-party cookies from its Chrome browser. With Chrome responsible for two-thirds of internet traffic, this evolution is perhaps the most significant paradigm shift in consumer engagement.

An inescapable, privacy-first, future beckons and while the industry is finding ways to prepare for it, it’s clear that this is not (and should not be) a platform-only conversation – there are opportunities for marketers to determine their own trajectory.

This year’s entries to the WARC Awards for Media: Best Use of Data category showcased brands finding innovative ways to leverage data available to them, whether directly (as their first-party data) or indirectly (through various types of data partnerships) to deliver impressive results in their media campaigns.

Regardless of how marketing will work in a post-cookie world, there will be opportunities for collaboration between brands and platforms (like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Quantcast, Criteo, etc).

Looking at the case studies submitted by Warner Bros. UK, L’Oréal and Unilever Food Solutions, we can loosely group the role data partnerships played in their campaign successes under three categories:

  1. Data as an informer
  2. Data as a refiner
  3. Data as a mediator

Warner Bros. UK Distribution: Bringing entertainment home

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention so it should come as no surprise that navigating the unknowns of the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic was the backdrop for these innovative applications.

Marketers who feel they have an over-reliance on third-party data sources should look to the Warner Bros. UK case study as a framework to not just protect their brand position but potentially develop a new revenue line by using data to identify areas of opportunity and inform business growth strategies.

The partnership with Amazon was not to create something new – or increase how much data could be extracted from the platform – but to examine the data in a way that allowed them to generate useful and usable insights.

Another way to look at the success they generated from their understanding of viewing habits is very much like taking a real-time inventory in a physical DVD rental store based on what people were buying. It’s not new but it is innovatively applied.

Unilever Food Solutions: Killer recipes

That same level of savviness was demonstrated by the Unilever Food Solutions team, which used data as a broker between the three audiences that made its business a success: the chefs (their primary audience), the diners (their secondary audience) and the restaurants (the meeting place of their audiences) – a B2B2C2B model!

The most interesting aspect of the data usage with UFS was that there was less reliance than one typically expects when you have access to the data of two million-plus fans, influencers, and a celebrity. Success instead hinged on the execution of the data strategy.

Seeing data being used to bridge the gap between chefs and diners should encourage all marketers who have a ‘multi-sided’ business that sometimes it is better to deploy your data to enable the audience (diners) that your ‘usual’ target audience (chefs) cares about – in the place where they are best reached (the restaurant, not in an app/website).

L'Oréal: Fueling digital automation across brands and markets with e-retailer data

For the marketers who have identified their main revenue stream(s), and are working towards cost efficiency, the L’Oréal approach in using data as a refiner should serve as a template to making business decisions with a strong feedback loop.

Working within one platform to isolate the factors that eroded investment effectiveness and attaching tangible numbers to those factors is a great way to make sure the data leads conversations, not gut-feelings or whatever the rest of the market is doing.

There are many lessons marketers can learn from these three case studies, but it’s best to summarise them as:

  • Set out with the end goal in mind. Are you embarking on a data partnership to extract more from a partner or trying to find new ways to generate revenue? It can also be something in between but work your way backwards from there.
  • Data strategy matters. Sometimes the best approach is to change the order of things, rather than try to create a whole new system.
  • Testing and learning will not go away. If anything, you should invest in it more. Develop a test and learn framework, so you don’t reinvent the wheel every time.
  • In a new environment, focus on the subtle changes in the familiar aspects. Creatively consider what parallels can be drawn between the old and the new to inform which data points to start with.

Of course, it’s important for all media activity to generate business results, in one form or another, but campaigns will always require good application of data to allow marketers to make effective decisions.

As we navigate a post-cookie world, the types of data partnerships will likely remain unchanged (second- and third-party, with the appropriate consents) from how they are today but the way in which that data is utilised will required creative thinking.

This should be great news for any marketing professional as it provides plentiful opportunities for our creativity and innovation to be expressed, and our craft to shine.

An abridged version of this article appears in WARC's Report, What's working in data-driven marketing 2022.